The World in the Eyes of a Chemical Engineer(ing Student)

Chemical engineering is a discipline dealing with processes (industrial and natural) involving the transformation (chemical, biological or physical) of matter or energy into forms useful for mankind, economically and without compromising environment, safety, or finite resources. This definition makes chemical engineering a very broad field –encompassing various disciplines such as biology, physics, economics, environment, etc. And as the boundaries of different branches of science become indistinct and fuzzy, chemical engineers tend to adapt to the changes brought about by such fusion. Chemical engineers are the most familiar (among the other engineers) with how, for instance, organic chemistry, molecular physics and biology are joined in biotechnology or how solid-state physics fuse with microelectronics. However, according to J.M. Prausnitz, a chemical engineer and professor in the University of California, the fuzziness extends much farther and further. For instance, engineering, biology, and chemistry mix up not only with themselves but also with law and public policy. That is why, while chemical engineering is continuously changing and progressing, it is also observed that the importance of environmental and safety issues are not compromised. And thus, chemical engineering is now stretched to environmental engineering. They expand the job of the environmentalists to creating technological innovation in solving environmental issues and concerns.


Moreover, given the wide range of applications of chemical engineering, the discipline is fast becoming the center of the sciences that tries to solve the problem of the unprecedented demands of the growing population of the world. At present, researches and innovations in the field of chemical engineering is focusing on two areas that are now humanity's highest priority-- clean and renewable energy and health care. These issues also paved the way for the new frontiers of chemical engineering-- nanotechnology, biochemical engineering and solar energy research.


First is the nanotechnology, defined as the study and use of structures between 1 nanometer and 100nanometers in size. Applications of nanotechnology in medicine are now being developed. The use of engineered nano-particles to deliver drugs, heat, light and other substances to specific cells in the human body allows detection and/or treatment of diseases or injuries within the targeted cells, thereby minimizing the damage to healthy cells in the body. Application of nanotechnology to fuel and fuel cells also reduces the cost of catalysts and production of fuel. Research is also being conducted to develop nanocapsules containing nutrients that would be released when nanosensors detect a vitamin deficiency in your body. Basically this research could result in a super vitamin storage system in your body that delivers the nutrients you need, when you need them.


Next, biochemical engineering may be defined as an engineering discipline that is concerned with the economic processing of materials that are of biological origin and that are processed and designed for biological application to serve useful purpose for the benefit of mankind. Materials engineered from biological origin can be used in a variety of ways. Applications of biochemical engineering include pharmaceutical compounds and artificial organs and devices of medical importance. (source: Biochemical engineering-Trends and recent advances --Doo young Ryu--journal)

And lastly, solar energy research is continuously encouraged as it is a very promising source of renewable energy. In the Philippines, research and development in energy and environment includes solar PV, solar thermal and solar cooling in its priority initiatives. (Source: Priority Initiatives as of 28 May 2009Congressional Commission on Science & Technology and Engineering)


All of those new disciplines aforementioned can really create a big impact on our society and can radically change our lives. However, some chemical engineers tend to focus on new applications of the field alone. If you observe, the real keywords are “solve the problem” and “unprecedented demand”. And what are these demands? It has become an evitable fact that chemical engineers should comply with the demand of the so called postmodern world with regard to accepting the responsibilities brought about by the intersecting disciplines, as aforementioned, and interaction between such fields. It is never an issue of what chemical engineer should need and what he thinks to respond to the problems but on what the world expects from them to respond. Chemical engineers, whether they like it or not, have social responsibilities. And that is what people expect them to comply with. Yes, it is great to go beyond the traditional technical and technological domain, but chemical engineers should not take for granted their unavoidable task – to serve society. More often than not, chemical engineers are taking for granted the imperfections and flaws of the innovations they are creating, which the public is suffering from. They also must try to reach out for people. There is a need to have the people well-informed about the contributions of chemical engineering how it manage to uplift the community through responsible research in science and engineering. It is very important since the public has barely known about what chemical engineering is, who chemical engineers are and what they do. And worse, they only focus on the things that chemical engineers are taking for granted, their flaws and imperfections. Also, in as much as they try to clear out the boundaries of different science disciplines, they also must try to erase the line between scientists and nonscientist, engineers and non-engineers, which become analogous to knowledgeable and non-knowledgeable, or rational and irrational.


Therefore, in general, there are five requirements as suggested by Prausnitz for effective chemical engineering in the postmodern world: 1. Focus on quality control to assure process and product safety; more green chemistry to avoid pollution; 2. Focus to human needs of employment and co-workers; 3. There should be an open honesty whenever there is a public concern problems; 4. Stretch-out magnitude of communicating through media of what chemical engineers do, how they do it and why; and lastly, 5. Build bridges to nonscientists or non-engineers: try to erase the uneasiness and fear of these people to science and technology and “do not assume that “you” are smarter than “they”.


With those in my mind of a chemical engineer, he, sure, can make a big difference not only to himself but also to the world he is in.



7 comments:

Bejugam Vinith @ October 31, 2009 at 11:37 PM

Nice blog buddy.Keep it up! I'm also studying chemical engineering and here is my blog:www.vinithbejugamchemicalengineering.blogspot.com .Cheers!

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optimistic dora @ December 23, 2009 at 5:41 PM

hooh, nosebleed tlaga ako sa chemistry, how much more kaya kung may kasama pa'ng engineering application?! hehehe...

Anonymous @ December 29, 2009 at 12:27 AM

It is very interesting for me to read this article. Thank you for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read more soon.

Leoj @ December 29, 2009 at 12:26 PM

@bejugam, nice blog you have there! cheers for us. spread the chemical engineering mania! :D

@dora,hmm, nosebless din ako eh! hehe. saw your blog! hope you can visit here more often. thanks

@anonymous, wow thank you! it is really overwhelming to have you guys as my readers. sadly, i still haven't updated this blog other than sponsored posts! i long for creating a new article on chemical engineering!

Anonymous @ January 20, 2010 at 9:09 PM

It is extremely interesting for me to read this article. Thanks for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to this matter. BTW, why don't you change design :).

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